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Driver Training, Speed Limiter Rules See Action
 

By Roy Maurer  8/25/2014

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) moved truck safety regulations on driver training and speed limiters forward this month.

The agency announced that it is exploring the idea of negotiating new training standards for entry-level commercial drivers in the Aug. 19, 2014, Federal Register.

Another rule requiring the use of speed limiters on heavy trucks was sent to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation for review in early August. It is projected to be sent to the White House for final approval in early September and to be published as a proposed rule in December 2014.

Entry-Level Safety Training

In a negotiated rulemaking, an agency invites representatives of interested parties that are likely to be affected by a regulation to work with each other and the agency on a committee to develop a consensus draft of a proposed rule. If a consensus is reached, the agency publishes the proposal for public comment. The FMCSA has hired a moderator to speak with interested parties representing drivers, motor carriers, state licensing and enforcement agencies, labor unions, safety advocates, and insurance companies about the feasibility of conducting a negotiated rulemaking.

“FMCSA believes this cooperative problem-solving approach should be given serious consideration,” the agency said. “To do so, the agency must determine, among other statutory factors, whether an appropriate advisory committee can be assembled that would fairly represent all affected interests, will negotiate in good faith and whether consensus on the issues is likely.”

The FMCSA has considered negotiated rulemaking before but has not adopted any regulations by this means since its creation in 2000.

21 Years Overdue

The history of regulating commercial driver training is a long one. Congress ordered FMCSA’s predecessor agency to adopt a final rule by 1993.

The FMCSA adopted a final rule in 2004 requiring classroom instruction in driver qualifications, hours-of-service requirements, wellness and whistle-blower protections, but it did not mandate any behind-the-wheel safety training.

A federal appeals court in 2005 ordered the agency to rewrite the regulations to include driver safety training. The FMCSA came closest to enacting behind-the-wheel driver training standards with a 2007 proposed rule, but opposition from the trucking industry stalled it before it could become final.

Congress in 2012 again ordered the agency to produce a driver training rule by October 2013. The FMCSA announced in September 2013 that it had decided to withdraw the 2007 rule and start over.

Reaction

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) strongly objected to hours-based training in 2007 and will likely argue against this approach again, in favor of performance-based standards. Conversely, safety advocacy groups will likely insist on a minimum number of hours behind the wheel.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said it welcomes the long-awaited action to address entry-level training standards.

“The OOIDA and its membership are ready to work with the [moderator] and the agency to ensure that all new commercial vehicle operators are trained to operate a vehicle safely and efficiently in real-world conditions,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer in a statement.

Speed Limiters

The agency’s speed limiter rule would require trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds to have speed limiters installed. Speed limiters are electronic devices that interact with a truck engine to limit a vehicle’s maximum speed. The FMCSA has not yet said what that speed limit would be. The agency said that the rule would eliminate approximately 1,115 fatal crashes and require minimal investment by carriers since many heavy trucks already have limiters installed.

The ATA has been petitioning for a speed limiter rule for years.

But the independent owners group is opposed, citing cost and lack of evidence that limiters will improve safety. “Large carriers, and their association ATA, state that reducing speed-related crashes involving trucks is critical … it is a fact that most large carriers, which constitutes only one percent of all carriers, have already invested in speed limiters and want to force small carriers to invest also,” the OOIDA said.

The OOIDA argues that speed limiters will cause greater, unsafe speed variance and more congestion: “Instead of a speed-limiter mandate to prevent speeding, carriers could modify the fundamental and structural problems that create incentives for speeding, such as compensation of drivers by mile and lack of pay for substantial amounts of time spent waiting to load and unload. Speeding is often a function of the economics of trucking. The perceived need to speed will be eliminated if carriers pay per hour, pay bonuses, or increase per mile pay for compliant driving.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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